The third annual Women Entrepreneurship Week Conference on Oct. 19 offered inspiration and advice, plus a chance to learn how to juggle in the literal sense.
Mimi Feliciano, the founder of the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship at Montclair State, kicked off the conference by sharing lessons she learned from her experience as a competitive ballroom dancer. Feliciano, who runs FEM Real Estate, said dancing taught her how to let others lead, which led her to give more responsibility—and opportunities—to her staff.
The conference is one of the most high-profile events held during Women Entrepreneurship Week, when 40 organizations held events on every continent except Antarctica. WEW was launched at Montclair State in 2014, and grew into an international movement in 2016.
The “Taking Risks” panel, moderated by alumna and retired VP of Prudential Financial Michele Ansbacher, featured insights from entrepreneurs as well as corporate execs. These pieces of advice registered with attendees, who shared them on Twitter:
“Fail fast, and recover quickly,” Debbie Dyson, corporate VP of Client Experience at ADP. “Think big, be bold, speak up.”
“The more conviction you have, the more people will follow you,” Laura Overdeck, founder and president, Bedtime Math Foundation
“When you’re not fearful anymore, maybe it’s time to try something new,” Jessica Gaffney, founder and CEO of Wavework
“If not now, when? Go for it! There’s always going to be an obstacle,” Sunita Holzer, EVP and chief human resources officer at Realogy.
A panel of leaders from Women Presidents’ Organization, titled “Moving the Needle: WPO Members Share Tips for Success,” covered various aspects of entrepreneurship. Susan French, CEO of Social Media Link, told the audience to be tenacious. “When I believe in something, I fight for it,” she said. French also talked about how working in a relatively new industry can be a challenge but also offer freedom. She noted there is no road map for running a social media company. “We get to make the map, and make the road,” French said. Jayne Millard, CEO of Turtle & Hughes Inc., advised, “Never allow yourself to be intimidated by anyone, ever. Ever.” The panel also talked about the reality of owning a business, with 24 Seven Inc. President Celeste Gudas saying being an entrepreneur is 10 times more work than you expected. The panel also talked about entrepreneurs’ propensity to break the rules. Moderator Marsha Firestone, the founder and president of WPO, noted entrepreneurs aren’t necessarily the best students—they may rack up C grades—because they have a habit of breaking rules.
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno talked about lessons she’s learned by breaking barriers as New Jersey’s first lieutenant governor and, previously, as sheriff of Monmouth County. A promoter of business all over New Jersey, Guadagno also advocates for more women at top levels of management. She noted there are more men named John running large companies than women of any name at the top of large companies. Guadagno told attendees to be the best educated and most prepared person in the room. She concluded: “The women are the problem-solvers, so let’s get to work.”
The conference culminated with an interactive presentation by Jen Slaw, a performer, speaker and juggler. In her speech, “Women: The Master Jugglers! How to Build a Fulfilling and Balanced Life,” Slaw used juggling to make metaphors about juggling professional and personal life. For example, one piece of advice is “learn from the drops,” or mistakes. Slaw had each attendee balance a peacock feather on the palm of the hand to make the point about maintaining equilibrium, literally and figuratively. The highlight was when Slaw taught the audience how to juggle, with attendees teaming up to toss multi-colored balls between them. There were laughs, some shrieks, and a lot of bending over to pick up dropped balls as scores of attendees attempted to juggle. The attendees, more than 90 percent of whom were women, may have learned from the drops that figurative juggling may be easier than actual juggling. Video clip of audience trying to juggle.